DIY Planetarium Built From PVC Pipes and Cardboard

When you think about DIY projects, you probably don’t consider building your own planetarium. Why would you? Building the thing is surely outside the capabilities of the individual, and even if you could figure it out, the materials would be far too expensive. There’s a limit to DIY projects, and obviously building a planetarium is on the wrong side of the line. Right?

Well, apparently not. [Gabby LeBeau] has documented the planetarium she built as her senior project, and if you’ll forgive the pun, it’s absolutely out of this world. Using readily available parts and the help of family and friends, she built a fully functional planetarium big enough to seat the Physics Department. No word on what grade she got, but it’s a safe bet she screwed the curve up for the rest of the class.

After two months of research and a couple of smaller proof of concept builds, she was able to find a business who graciously allowed her to construct the full scale planetarium in their warehouse. The frame is made of PVC pipes held together with zip ties. The big advantage to using the PVC pipes (beyond being cheap and easy to works with) is that they will automatically find a hemispherical shape when bent; saving the time and trouble it would take to create the shape with more rigid building materials.

Once the PVC frame was up, white cardboard panels were cut to shape and attached to the inside. The panels were lined up as closely as possible, but gaps were covered with white tape so the fit didn’t need to be perfect. When the dome was finished, it was lifted and placed on metal trusses to get some room underneath, and finally covered with a black tarp and stage curtain to block out all light.

Of course, she didn’t go through all this trouble to just stick some glow in the dark stars on the inside of this thing. The image from a standard projector is directed at a flat mirror, which then bounces off of a convex mirror. Driving the projector is a laptop running Stellarium. While there were some imperfections she couldn’t get polished or cleaned off of the mirrors, the end result was still very impressive.

Unfortunately, you can’t really do a planetarium justice with a camera, so we aren’t able to see what the final image looked like. But judging by the slack-jawed faces of those who are pictured inside of it, we’re going to go out on a limb and say it was awesome.

We might suggest trying to quiet down the projector or adding some lasers to the mix, but overall this is a truly exceptional project, and we’re jealous of everyone who got to experience it first hand.

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